Apocalypto (2006)

Review

Apocalypto

My ancient-language skills are rusty, so until I get my hands on a Mayan-to-English dictionary, I’m going to assume that Apocalypto translates into ‘vicious, unwieldy, and relentless brutality staged with ambitious fervor for a fruitless cause.’

That sums up Mel Gibson’s blood-spurting debacle of the same name, a perverse and sadistic historical sprint that suffers the carte blanche excesses of a successful director who believes he’s earned the right not to be told ‘no.’

Even as Gibson’s blockbuster Biblical epic The Passion of the Christ took in record-breaking box-office totals two years ago, the filmmaker faced accusations that the on-screen violence was gratuitous. (I’d defend the director by saying the final hours of Jesus Christ are supposed to be difficult, so the heavy handed brutality served the chosen story.) Gibson’s puzzling response to that controversy: Create a savage exercise in tribal torture that slaughters hundreds of innocents but furthers absolutely no credible plot point.

Gibson’s main character in the subtitled plodder is Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), the soft-spoken leader of a Mayan village who stashes his son and pregnant wife in a deep cave when Holcane warriors storm his unsuspecting forest community. After massive amounts of blood is spilled — Gibson’s rapid-slice battle choreography was stimulating in Braveheart but chaotic here — the survivors are marched to a nearby city where their options range from being sold into slavery to being sacrificed for the pleasure of a sun god.

When I tell you heads will roll, I’m being literal. Apocalypto has at least three shots of severed skulls tumbling down the steps of stone temples. For every bouncing noggin, Mel also includes a scene of a heart being pulled from a chest cavity and dropped on a sizzling slab for grilling. Again, the point of these torturous asides is unclear.

Because Gibson thinks we care about Jaguar Paw’s abandoned family, he shifts the film’s second half into third gear and turns Apocalytpo into a frantic foot race for their safety. The lanky warrior, turned loose by his captives, is hunted through the dense brush as he calls on the previously unseen combat skills of Arnold Schwarzenegger circa Predator. As Jaguar Paw picks off his pursuers, Gibson — a proven sadist as demonstrated by his bone-crunching body of work — celebrates each kill with glee.

Apocalypto will only please audiences who pay to see characters they know nothing about be speared, clubbed, impaled, beheaded, hung, raped, pushed off cliffs, and bitten through the face by a jaguar. Gibson has a bright future making illegal snuff films. That’s not a compliment.

The director precedes Apocalypto with a cryptic quote by philosopher Will Durant: ‘A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.’ Since the quote has nothing, in context, to do with the film, I’ll assume it refers to Gibson himself. If the press, by pouncing on the celebrity’s recent publicized statements of hatred, are attempting to conquer Mel’s career from without, then Apocalypto shows he already has successfully destroyed it from within.

The DVD includes one short deleted scene, a commentary track, and a making-of featurette.

This is way better than the Bellagio!